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Regional Recruiting: As far as a coach-player relationship, Dan Fife and Foster Loyer, is as good as it gets

By: Tom Markowski, March 24, 2018, 3:51 pm

East Lansing – Katie Loyer walked into the Clarkston gymnasium for the first time in the fall of 2013 and noticed there was something missing.

Actually, her son, Foster made mention of what was missing a few days earlier.

Dan Fife, at the time, was entering his 33rd season as Clarkston’s head coach. Clarkston has not won a state title at that time.

“His mom got on me,” Fife said. “Not got on me so much but she said her son asked where all the championship banners were.”

It took until Loyer’s junior season until Clarkston did win its first state title. Now it has two.

Clarkston jumped on Holland West Ottawa on Saturday and won the Class A title by the largest margin in state history, 81-38, at the Breslin Center.

Loyer is a 5-11 guard who was greatly responsible for turning what had been a good, consistent program into one of the state’s best.

The relationship Fife and Foster Loyer have had over the last four years is comparable to that of a grandfather and grandson. And it’s a relationship that will last, long after Fife leaves Clarkston and long after Loyer leaves Michigan State.

Fife made Loyer a better player. Loyer made Fife a better coach.

It was a perfect match. Fife wanted to win a state title and Loyer wanted to win one for him.

Fife has coached some great players in his career, notably his son Dane, the 1998 Mr. Basketball winner. And he coached against some of the best players in the state including Draymond Green of Saginaw among others.

Fife said Loyer belongs in that category. Loyer passed Dane Fife as the school’s all-time scoring leader in the first quarter. Loyer scored 40 against West Ottawa a day after he scored 42 in the semifinal. In the four games Loyer played at the Breslin Center he scored 143 points. In the two games this weekend Loyer put on a shooting display not often seen. He was 26-of-36 (72.2 percent) from the field including 13-of-22 (59 percent) from the 3-point range. He missed one free throw in 18 attempts.

He was named Mr. Basketball earlier this month and is one of the few players who was named first team all-state all four seasons.

“This kid has been as good as any,” Fife said. “As a freshman, you didn’t know how good he was going to be. I told people then, you’re going to be amazed at what he can do. The best thing about him he’s as good a kid off the court as he is on.”

It’s to assume that Loyer’s presence in the program added years to Fife’s coaching career. Basketball has been a big part of Fife’s life for the past 55 years, from playing at Clarkston to his years at Michigan and then as a coach.

Unlike Dane, Loyer is more cerebral on the court where Dane would be more volatile. Opposing coaches, like Greg Esler of Warren DeLaSalle, Clarkston’s semifinal opponent, paid Loyer the highest compliment by saying he makes his teammates better.

“It’s been a blessing to play for coach Fife,” Loyer said. “On and off the court he’s been there for me. I’d have a bad week and he’s there for.

“He builds great players. He builds great people.”

It’s been a step by step process for Fife and Loyer to win those two state titles. Loyer’s freshman season saw the Wolves lose to U-D Jesuit 56-54 in a quarterfinal. The next season Clarkston lost to Macomb Dakota in a regional semifinal, 68-66, in double overtime.

It was all a learning experience, for Fife and Loyer.

“The fact that Foster was so confident, that confidence carried over to his teammates,” Fife said. “I used to be real volatile. I don’t get off the bench as much him.”

There’s been speculation that this is it for Fife that he will not return as coach. Fife said he has yet to make a decision and that he will spend some time away from and talk it over with his wife, Jan.

If that happens, if Fife should retire, he can leave knowing he went out on top and coached one of the best point guards, and players, in the past 30 or 40 years.

“Coach taught me to have that aggressive mindset.” Loyer said. “He wants to compete.

“From early on in my career (winning a state title) has been my goal. I told (assistant) coach (Eric) Chambers, we’re going to win one.”

Two is better.